When I watched the TV mini-series, John Adams, I was amazed at how messy the start of our country had been. It is so easy to read history books and assume that the delegates from the thirteen colonies were all like-minded collaborators who gathered as a team to purposely draft the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The television program gave a glimpse into how difficult the process actually was, with people pulling in different directions and with no clear vision of where the group was heading. Such is one of the gifts of John O’Malley, SJ’s new book, What Happened at Vatican II.
This book offers a fascinating glimpse into what really occurred during this historic Catholic event of our time. It’s almost funny to read that the calling of a Council was a shock to almost everyone. “What was the Pope thinking?!” many wondered. As the book explains, there were no obvious, major crises in the Church. So why would the Pope decide to convene such a milestone event? Usually Councils were convened to address heresies or other crises.
Filled with interesting tidbits, this book at times reads like a novel. But there are so many facts woven together that it becomes an enlightening account of the often messy, often disjointed, but definitely Spirit-led gathering. O’Malley doesn’t dive deeply into the theological issues, since these are covered in many other books. But he gives enough information that the average Catholic will find this account extremely helpful.
I’ve heard people say that they would have loved to have been a “fly on the wall” at Vatican II. This book comes as close as possible to that. It’s a great book for every curious Catholic to read.